Advice for Newly Qualified Lawyers Living in London

Cameron Gardiner Sonder Consultants

Cameron Gardiner, Senior Consultant

You have come through one of the most challenging parts of your journey to becoming a lawyer – the two-year training contract. Now you can officially update your LinkedIn and change your email signature.

However, as you may already be aware, it is also just the start of another journey into unchartered waters. Your NQ year is a necessary time to learn and be a sponge to all the knowledge and experience you’ll gain. In a COVID world, NQ’s are in an unusual position. Remote working means that it’s difficult to fully immerse yourself in your chosen practice area. Therefore it’s crucial to stay motivated and find new ways to learn and progress.

It’s not all negative on the COVID front. With eased restrictions, NQ’s should be able to work from the office in the coming months and by summer and enjoy the great City of London at it’s finest. Firms are also in a strong position.Research shows that revenues are up across most of the board, while the ongoing salary wars indicate that the legal sector is thriving. Newly qualified trainees are now being paid more than ever.

Around 84% of qualifying trainees from the (just over) 100 firms surveyed by ChambersStudent in 2021 secured NQ roles at the firm they trained at. This represents an increase from 2019’s market-wide retention rate (80%) and sets a new record for the highest retention rate in the past 20 years. Twenty firms boasted 100% retention records and there were more firms who retained 90% or more of their trainees (39) than there were firms who retained less than 80% (27 altogether).

Moving forward, be ready and willing to take on as much work as you can, connect, network, and don’t be scared to pick up the phone or jump on a video call. It’s natural to have many questions at this pivotal time in your career. So, whether you are looking for a training position, are unhappy with a role you are retained in or simply want some career direction, we are here to help!

Here are some answers to the most common questions I receive to help set you on the road to success…

Q – What should I do if I don’t get retained by my firm?

You would typically get told in your final seat if you are not going to be retained in the firm you are in. At this point, start talking to a recruiter straight away and do your research into firms that suit your criteria. Be proactive and take advice from your recruiter as they may be able to tell you more about other firms that have not been on your radar. Ideally, you want to be in a strong position to move into a new role at the end of your seat, but don’t get too hung up. Moves are common, and there will be a firm that’s right for you. 

Q – What should I do if I get retained in a position I don’t like?

First of all, have a conversation internally. Talk to the partner and make it clear that this is not your chosen area. The likelihood is that there is no room elsewhere; however, make sure you raise the question because there could be an opportunity for you. Having this conversation will give you a feel for your next move. If they are unable to provide a solution at this point, start looking for your next role. Do not sit on your hands. Remember that lateral moves are very common and are an option in your first year, but don’t leave it too long. You will face difficult questions by Partners if you leave it longer than a year to move, and this will ultimately put you in a bad position- the possibility of being treated as a NQ for a further year with no career development. Your career should always move forward, don’t waste time.

Q. As a 1PQE, should I focus on a particular line of work or keep a broader perspective?

If you have found an area you really enjoy, I would advise looking into firms that specialise in that area but can also provide broader work. You are still at the development stage in your career, so it would be beneficial for you to have a scope of multiple areas. Once you have 3 PQE under your belt, you will know what you enjoy and will have the knowledge and the skills to create a practice that revolves around that work.

Q – Should I be thinking about moving outside of London?

I would definitely have it on your radar if it’s something you want to do, but also remember that London in the dominant market, and you are likely to get the largest salary here. With this said, there are some excellent opportunities out there, but this is dependent on your area of work. For instance, if you are interested in Asset Finance, look into Singapore. The Middle East, and Dubai are key areas for Finance, Corporate, Real Estate and Construction. Further afield in Australia, there are some excellent opportunities in Private Equity, Insolvency Disputes, Corporate M&A and Construction.

Moving outside of London for career development would be solely dependent on jurisdiction and work area, but if you are keen to look into it, ask your recruiter. We have a global reach here at Sonder and will be able to use our extensive network and market intelligence to help you make an informed decision.

Q. Would it look bad if I moved from my training contract to a new firm?

I often get asked, “will it look jumpy if I move straight after my training contract.” The answer is no. You understand the market, what suits your personality, and you have every right to explore the market. No partner will negatively look at this if your reasoning makes sense – just make sure you communicate your intentions. If it’s simply because of money, partners will also respect that.

Q. Is legal technology a good career option?

Law firms are developing around this area, and it’s a hot topic at the moment. If you are perhaps leaning slightly away from the traditional law path trajectory and have a curious mind, I would definitely look into it. There are many exciting opportunities within this space. I no AI is advancing, eHearings and eDiscovery. My colleague Aimee Forde would be the first person to connect with on LinkedIn. She knows everything about this space and has time to chat with anyone who shows a keen interest.

For more advice on the next steps to take in your legal career, don’t hesitate to get in touch with

Would you be interested in attending a virtual Q&A with Cameron Gardinar and our Director, Jonathan Taylor? If so express your interest and send your questions to:

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

For more information on salary trends, market updates and the general process in securing a role.
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